State Rep. Derek Merrin (R-47) got a surprise this week when his bill to update the requirements for ballot language on property tax levies was added to the state’s budget bill. But his excitement was short-lived when Gov. Mike DeWine used his line-item veto authority to nix the idea.
Merrin’s House Bill 76 was approved in committee and was expected to be on the agenda for a House vote after the summer recess. Instead, the House and Senate Budget Conference Committee incorporated the new property tax ballot language into the budget bill, which was approved Wednesday.
“Hopefully the Governor doesn’t line-item veto it,” Merrin said Wednesday after it passed in the General Assembly.
But Thursday, when Gov. DeWine signed the bill, the language to add transparency to property tax levy ballot issues was on the veto list.
“This item would change the way a property tax levy is described on a ballot,” DeWine wrote in his explanation of the veto. “The goal of this item is to increase transparency for property tax levy ballot language. However, the change would be difficult for county auditors to implement, and the required ballot language may seem confusing and contradictory. Therefore, this veto is in the public interest.”
Merrin said he believes the governor may have gotten some bad information.
“It’s obvious from the veto statement that he doesn’t understand what the language does,” he said. “There is nothing for county auditors to implement.”
Merrin also said the County Auditors Association of Ohio was not opposed to the bill.
- All election notices and ballot language will detail the estimated amount the levy would collect each year.
- The rate of a property tax levy will be expressed in dollars for each $100,000 of fair market value instead of in dollars for each $100 of taxable value.
- No words on the ballot will be in bold and all text sizes will be the same, except for the title of the levy.
DeWine’s explanation that the new language “may seem confusing” was an echo of what numerous state associations said during committee hearings.
The Ohio Association of School Business Officials, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Library Council, the Ohio Municipal League, and the Ohio Township Association in prepared testimony said:
The transition to the use of “$100,000” in value for tax purposes presents opportunities for the miscalculation of the taxes for an individual property, particularly when using the proposed term “fair market value.” This term may mean different things to different people, but we believe the average homeowner believes it to mean the possible sale value of their home. This value may not actually be the taxable value for purposes of calculating the taxes property owners will pay.
The Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities said the term “fair market value” is “confusing.”
“Most property owners would likely consider this to mean the amount a property would fetch in an arm’s length sale,” the association said. “However, it is the county auditor who assesses the market value of each property using a variety of factors, which may result in a considerably different sum than that what that property might bring if placed on the market. While this distinction does not affect the process used to calculate property taxes, the confusion that could result in the minds of voters after reading levy language structured in this way runs counter to the stated intention of transparency.”
But Merrin said the members of all the associations already do what the bill states. “They advertise their levies and include the cost for an average home valued at $100,000,” he said.
“I’m confident this is going to get done,” Merrin added. “I’m going to move forward with the stand-alone bill. There are no rational reasons to oppose this bill.”
– – –
Maggie Leigh Thurber is a writer for The Ohio Star. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Mike DeWine” by Vivien McClain. CC BY-SA 4.0. Background Photo “Ohio House Chamber” by Bestbudbrian. CC BY-SA 3.0.